19. Vampires don't like being left in the car

The Pizza Place—yes, that was it's real name—wasn't too crowded when I got there. Soren would have no trouble spotting me.

Speaking of spotting me. "Rory! How are you, dear?" Julie asked from behind the counter. Like she didn't know.

"Ah, good." I lied.

"Great. Why don't you take that booth right there? I'll get a pie in the oven. Your usual?"

"That'd be peachy." I said and sat down at the booth she had pointed at. I took a seat on the side that was facing the door so I could see Soren when he got here. Belatedly, I realized that I probably should have waited for him to order. But it was pepperoni. Who didn't like pepperoni? Vegetarians, for one. Was Soren a vegetarian? My mind drew a blank.

Whatever, I'd buy him anything he wanted off of the menu.

I played with the shaker of pepper flakes on the table as I waited, trying to keep my hands busy so I wouldn't check my phone. It wouldn't do any good. I'd apologized and now I'd just have to wait until Piper responded. If he responds.

I told my pessimism to go jump into a quarry and tried to shake it off. This wasn't the time to worry about Piper, anyway. I was on a date with Soren.

Soren himself walked into the place then. It took him a second to scan the place to find me. I didn't call out to him because the words got stuck in my dumb head. 'Cause damn.

He was wearing leather pants that clung to his legs just right. I wondered if he had gone home to change or had worn them to school. Either way, I guess he was still feeling an aversion to blending in. He paired them with a black tank top, leaving his arms bare from the last bracelet around his wrist to his shoulders. It also managed to show off some nice collar bone cleavage. Now that I knew he was a witch, it made sense that he didn't give a rat's ass about it being cold outside. He probably had some kind of spell for it.

He found me and made his way over. As he got closer, I realized the tank top had a piece of electrical tape front and center.

"Hey!" My voice kinda cracked. Nice. When was my life going to stop being a parade of embarrassment? "You look gorgeous." I said, remarkably sounding like a normal person.

He smirked at me and bent to give me a kiss. I could feel the other wolves in the place staring. I ignored them. They didn't know my life.

Soren sat down on my bench instead of on the free one across the table. I wasn't complaining, the view was wonderful. I really just wanted to lean over and kiss his shoulder, but there were people still looking at us.

I scooted and twisted until my back was against the wall and I was facing him. He angled himself towards me, his top clinging nicely to his torso as he moved.

Speaking of, I gestured towards the tape on his shirt. "Fashion statement?"

He laughed. "No, more like censorship." He peeled the tape up and let me see that it had been concealing the words Cum Slut in white, fancy script. He put the tape back. "I love the way the shirt fits, but I also like being let into polite society."

"Oh, right." I said lamely, trying not to blush from all the images that popped into my head at those two words. They cut off suddenly when I remembered that I had called Piper a slut.

"Anyway, I heard you left school early. And some kids were talking about you. I think they were werewolves." I hurriedly looked around and realized all of the customers were wolves. Thank god. "What was up with that?" He asked, as he unhesitatingly grabbed my hand.

"Werewolf problems." I answered, moving my hand so we could thread our fingers together. Holding hands was the fucking bomb. I shook my hand so one of the dangle-y bracelets Soren was wearing would jingle.

"You have a lot of those." He pointed out, taking his hand back with a small eye roll at my attempt to play Hot Cross Buns on his bracelet.

"Tell me about it."

"How about you tell me about it?"

"It's just, you know..." I hedged. "You like pepperoni, right?" Choo, choo, get on the subject change train!

Soren gave me a look. He knew what I was doing—not being subtle over here. He looked slightly confused about why I couldn't answer a simple question, but he went with it. "Yeah, sure."

There was silence there. Awkward, or at least it was for me. Thankfully, Julie came by to break it. She brought us two cups and pointed out the fountain drink machine for Soren's benefit. I had been coming here since I was five.

"Oh, thank god, caffeine." Soren said. "I need it. I've been barely getting any sleep since Nae—and I guess your pack leader guy—have been making me craft a bunch of perimeter spells."

"That sucks." I said, giving the room another sweep to make sure no human customers had shown up. None had. But still, you couldn't just go around talking about packs and magic all willy nilly. Even if we hadn't been in public, I'd rather talk about anything else. Like, even baseball.

Soren left to go fill up his cup. I followed, lagging a little behind. As I did, I walked close to the counter.

"Yeah, Abby." I heard Julie sigh. I couldn't see her, but the tinny sound of my mom's reply let me know she was in the back somewhere talking to my mother on the phone.

I rolled my eyes. I wasn't surprised. She should just put one of those kid leashes on me and call it a day.

Not too soon after we had gotten back to the table, our pizza arrived. I wondered if my mom had called ahead.

"Oh, this is good." Soren gushed after his first bite. "Is that a werewolf thing? I haven't met one of you guys that couldn't cook."

Again with the werewolf stuff. I had to laugh, though. "Yeah you have. You go to school with a bunch of them. My dad can't cook unless there's eggs involved. And I'm way better at baking."

Soren looked intrigued by that. "You can bake?"

Good, a topic of conversation that doesn't include the supernatural, one that was up my alley even. Score. "Yep." I tried not to sound too smug.

"And we've been dating for how long?" He asked and my mind reacted the way it did whenever presented with a difficult math question. Not useful, in other words. Did he mean all together? Just from our starting over point? What quantifies as dating? The asking out part? The actual date?

"Ah..." Was my answer.

He waved it away. "Details don't matter, all I know is that it's been more than an hour, and I've yet to be wooed through homemade bake goods. What gives?"

I smiled. "That is definitely an oversight. I'll rectify it immediately."

He was about to add something, but his phone rang. "Sorry, have to take this, it's Nae."

I gestured for him to answer it and to not worry about it because I understood. At least, that was what I was trying to convey, it probably just looked like my hand flopping around.

I tried not to eavesdrop too much, but, hey, I was a werewolf, I couldn't help it.

"Yeah?" Soren didn't sound too happy, but then I wouldn't either if my mom had called in the middle of my date. I didn't know if it was better or worst that she outsourced her spying.

"Get home. Now." Nadine ordered.

"I told you, woman, I'm on a date."

"Right now. I'm serious, Soren."

"Oh, my god, if you need a spell done or something, I can do it later."

"The necromancer is arriving tonight." Really? How did she know? Oh, right, Rowan probably told her. That's when I remembered that witches and necromancers didn't get along to put it mildly.

"So?" Soren rolled his eyes.

"So, I need you at home so nothing happens and we can stay in this town for more than a couple of months."

"You know I wouldn't—"

"You haven't earned that kind of trust back yet. Get home." Ouch. I looked out at the other customers, trying really hard not to eavesdrop now. Thankfully, she hung up then.

He was quiet for a second.

"Are you—" I was about to ask if he was okay, but he talked over me.

"I gotta go, Rory."

Before he could stand, I caught his arm. "Wait! Can we rain check? I really want to finish a date with you."

Some of the dark cloud that was hanging over him dissipated at that. A little smile even tugged at the corners of his lips. "That would be nice? When are you free again?"

Oh, shit. I wasn't sure if I could get my mom to cave again. Though, it was the weekend, we'd have so many hours of daylight. "Either tomorrow or Sunday? I gotta check with my parents." I rolled my eyes like it was an Olympic event and I was representing a great nation that hadn't taken home a medal in eighty years.

"Okay, yeah, just call me when you find out if they'll let you come out and play."

"Of course." I used the grip I still had on his arm to tug him down for a goodbye kiss. It was good and I wanted more. When would people stop getting in the way of our dates?

::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I ate the rest of the pizza by myself and ordered a thing of garlic knots to wash it down. It wasn't like I was going to be making out with anybody tonight. I whiled away the hours until my curfew playing arcade games and trying my luck against an especially sadistic claw machine game.

After the game had eaten my last quarter, I was about to head home. I called my mom so she wouldn't have to bother Julie again.

"Yeah, mom? I'm in one piece and my ETA is approximately sixteen minutes. Should we synchronize our watches?"

"Smart ass. Just stay where you are. Piper's coming to pick you up, there's pack business." I was about to get worried, but then I remembered Soren's conversation with his aunt. The necromancer was arriving tonight. So, of course I had to be involved with that.

What was a zombie raising even like? Was it gross? I was betting it was gross. I didn't wanna go.

But, she had said Piper was picking me up. Hopefully, voluntarily and not out of obligation.

"Okay." I said, not whining or arguing since this was my chance to try to fix things with Piper.

After I hung up with my mom, I went and waited outside for Piper. It wasn't too long before his Camaro pulled up to the curb.

I got in the car. It was quiet and awkward. We really needed to stop doing this.

"Did you get my text?" I asked, breaking the silence.

"Yeah." He started going again, taking the streets that would lead us to the Farm.

I turned towards him, not caring that I wasn't buckled up. "Piper, I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

It was a minute and thirty-eight seconds before he responded. I knew because I counted. With Mississippi-s and everything.

"Okay." He said. Just that. Just one word.

"Okay?" I repeated. This wasn't going well. "Piper, I'm sorry, I—"

"I said it was okay. We're fine. Can we drop it?"

I just stared at him. He hadn't looked at me since I had gotten into his car. His jaw wasn't clenched, his hands weren't tight on the steering wheel, he didn't look angry and I wasn't getting anything through our Mating bond, but it still wasn't right. He was saying we were okay, but the words were flat and didn't feel like much of anything.

There was distance between us that had never been there before despite all our fighting. It was like I was trying to talk to the Piper that everyone else got to see. That scared me. Had I fucked up that badly? Had he written me off for good? If we hadn't been stuck together because of werewolf magic, would he have ignored me entirely? I couldn't let that happen, I had to try again.

"I'm—"

"Sorry, yeah, I heard you. Let's just talk about this later. We have to deal with pack stuff now." I had a feeling he was just offering to dive into our problems later to shut me up. He didn't want to talk about it. I think for the first time ever, I wasn't on board with the ignore-it option. I wanted to talk about it. About us.

Piper didn't. Maybe he didn't even want to fix it? Maybe he was done? He had piled all this distance and silence between us, maybe that's the way he wanted it to stay? I couldn't get mad about it, though. This was my fault.

I settled back in my seat and watched the sun go down through the window. I didn't try again.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::

So I guess this was going to be my life. I demanded a refund. The silence had grown throughout the drive and didn't go anywhere as Piper parked by the dirt road that led to the farm. Was there anything left to say? I had tried, but it wasn't anything he wanted to hear.

I guess we were just going to to have a strained Mate relationship like we were divorced parents or something. We didn't know each other, not really. We didn't get along, but we had to interact for the kids. Or, you know, the universe and the werewolves everywhere who thought we should just go head up a pack together.

If only we just had to show up and make small talk at birthdays and holidays.

The sound of an engine brought my attention to the road, but I did a double take when I saw what was coming towards us. A 1965 Ford Mustang done in black. Gorgeous. I wanted to drive it. Hell, I wanted to rub my face on it. Who had a Mustang?

When my knowledge of pack members and their cars failed me, a jolt of nerves shot through my stomach. I stepped back towards Piper's car and was glad he hadn't taken off yet. He had gotten out and was standing in front of his car, seemingly waiting for the stranger cruising down the easy-to-miss-unless-you're-looking-for-it road well after the sun had gone down.

Fuck Volvos, vampires would totally drive Mustangs.

The car slowed and the driver rolled down his window. He looked like he was in his early twenties, Latino maybe. Could totally be a vampire. He looked at us both and just said, "Werewolves?"

Before either us could respond—or run in my case, it seemed way more sensible an option—the guy in the passenger seat spoke. "You can't just ask people if they're werewolves."

"I just did."

"I swear, one of these—" The other guy started, but Piper cut him off.

"Ah, yeah, Mr. Killian. It's Piper." Mr. Killian? Oh! He was the necromancer.

He looked Piper up and down, but it was plain Piper wasn't setting off any bells, but then he looked past Piper to his car. "Oh, no, wait, kid with the Camaro. Now, I remember." He turned off his car and got out, grabbing a bag out of the backseat as he went. "Lead me to the corpse."

The second guy in the car followed him. I remembered what the necromancer had said on the phone with Rowan. He had a vamp with him. The guy didn't really seem like a vampire. He was in jeans and a leather jacket, not that I was expecting a cape or anything, but still, it was super cas'. He had longish dark hair and looked kinda... sick. A bad-cold kind of sick rather than about-to-blow-chunks-all-over-the-road sick, which was good comparatively.

"How long is this one going to take?" He asked the necromancer as Mr. Killian took out a pack of smokes and lit one.

"I can leave you in the goddamned car with the window cracked if you want."

"You're an asshole." Since the other guy had rounded the car and was way closer now—and because I was staring hard, let's be honest—I saw them. Fangs! Actual, real live—dead—vampire fangs. They were smaller than I thought they'd be, but his canines were definitely sharper than they needed to be for your average human.

Mr. Killian just flipped the vampire off and gestured for Piper to get going. I—not very subtly, probably—moved so I was at Piper's side, the one opposite from the vampire. I knew he wasn't with the ones running around town, but still. Vampire.

We went back towards the cabin where I had first seen the dead wolf. On the front porch was Rowan and my mom. They were talking to two strangers. I tensed for a second before common sense caught up. If they were vampires my mom wouldn't be giving them her sympathy face and shoulder grab-pat. Not even if she was about to rip their throats out.

The strangers were a man and a woman. Deductive reasoning decided to stop by to pick up common sense and let me know they were probably the dead kid's parents. Of course they'd want to be here if a necromancer was raising their son. At least they'd get to say goodbye.

Rowan noticed us first. He excused himself from the sad huddle on the porch and met us at the edge of the puddle of light from the cabin's windows. I moved so I was more on his side of things. I wondered if I should go stand by my mom, but I really didn't want to. I wasn't good at comforting people. "Ailbe Killian?" He asked, holding out a hand to the necromancer.

Ailbe transferred his cigarette to his left hand and accepted Rowan's hand with his right. When they let go, he gestured behind him towards the vampire. "He's the vamp I told you I'd have with me."

The vampire glared at Ailbe's back and offered a hand to Rowan. "Jamie Delgado." Rowan just looked at him. He let his hand drop after a moment. Awkward.

"He's not allowed to feed in our territory." Rowan said to Ailbe like the vampire—Jamie—wasn't even there.

"Got it, chief." Ailbe answered, not bothering to look at Jamie or anything. I know vampires are, well, vampires, but I kinda felt bad for the guy. Ailbe gestured towards the people gathered by the front door of the cabin. "Who are the mourners?"

"His parents."

"Make them wait out here until I have him up and running, alright? They don't need to see the whole show."

Rowan nodded and started leading both Ailbe and Jamie towards the cabin. I stayed where I was and so did Piper. Yeah, I still wasn't keen on the idea of seeing the dead come back to sort-of-temporary life.

"Have you ever seen him do it before?" I asked Piper. It was pack business stuff? Wasn't that what he had wanted to focus on? That's what he had said. Still, I was surprised when he did actually answer.

"No. Let's go." He gestured for me to go ahead of him.

"Why can't we sit this one out?" I wanted to know, encouraged by the fact that his tone wasn't the same flat one he had used in the car.

"From what I heard, it's not that...gory." He said quietly, looking at the ground more than me. He then started walking towards the cabin. I followed because, one, I wasn't standing out here in the dark by myself, and two, I was surprised by his response. I had just been hoping for more inflection, I hadn't expected an actual attempt at comfort. I'd already resigned myself to us being practically divorced parents. The only things exchanged between us now should be painfully polite chitchat.

Did he forgive me? At least a little? Or was it just because we were still talking pack business?

Whatever the reason, it made me feel better.

I went inside the cabin, Piper a quiet shadow next to me.

The room where I had last seen the dead wolf was super chilly now. It was like stepping into a walk-in freezer. The sheet-covered body in the middle of the room hadn't changed. I was guessing. It wasn't like I had gotten a good look last time.

The first thing the necromancer did when he walked into the room was tug the sheet off of the upper half of the dead wolf. The kid was pale—blueish really. It took me a second to see the giant gash in his neck because it was bloodless.

"When I asked you how he died, you said he'd been killed." Ailbe said to Rowan. "I assumed you meant a werewolf had done it. No one said anything about vampires."

"Is that going to be a problem?"

"I can't raise him."

"What does one have to do with the other?"

"After a vampire feeds on somebody like this, there's... nothing left for me to grab. The body's empty."

Okay, so this wasn't happening. Could I go? I was about to try to creep back out of the room, but I caught sight of Rowan. He looked tired before, but now he looked really tired. I kinda wanted to go pat him on the shoulder or something. See what Hallmark sentiment could be a stand-in for a You're a Great Pack Leader card.

"But you're in luck. I think we're after the same pack of junkie assholes."

"You got to be fucking kidding me." Rowan rubbed at his face and basically just looked like he wanted to declare the day a bust and go to bed. I wouldn't be too averse to that either, but I was curious about what Ailbe was talking about. Junkies?

"They already took down a fox shifter and a lone bear—that I know of. You guys like to play your cards close to the chest when you're dealing with other shifters, so there could be more groups who're missing a member or two. I've been tracking them through human kills mostly. They started in Oregon and they seem to be moving east."

"They're still feeding on humans?"

"Yeah, at least some of them are."

"And why is a necromancer out chasing them down?"

Ailbe laughed and stubbed his cigarette out on the corner of the small table holding medical equipment. He immediately lit another one. "When you got baby vamps running around being their usual dumbass baby vamp selves..." He looked at Jaime when he said this, the vampire flipped him off again. "Witches show up and clean up the mess, no big deal. But when they do shit like this and get a bunch of shifters pissed off too? Necromancers tend to get caught in the fallout then. Everybody gets a bug up their ass about death magic and we're stuck holding the bag—not that witches need any excuse.

So we'll stick around town for a few days, see if they decided to set up camp in the area. That cool with you?"

"Yes, we'll talk about strategy later, I have to go inform the boy's parents that he won't be raised tonight."

"That's kinda part of my job, letting down the mourners and all."

Rowan shook his head and left the room. I moved out of the way. I didn't have it in me to whine at him while he was having such a shitty night. He did give a hand gesture to Piper, who followed without arguing for once. Since I was useless even if Piper decided to a pain in the ass, I decided to stay where I was.

Which left me alone in a room with a necromancer and a vampire. Maybe not the best idea.

Before I could skedaddle out of there, Ailbe started talking to me.

"Hey, kid, you got directions for a hotel around here?"

"If there is one." The vampire muttered before I could answer. "It's a tiny ass town."

"There's a motel, actually." I informed them, super proud of the fact that my voice didn't come out squeaky or wavy despite the whole being-in-the-same-room-as-a-vampire thing. I sketched them out directions in the air for the Argus.

They left—Ailbe giving me a little salute as he passed. There was no way I was going to hang out in a room with a dead body, so I got gone, too. I by-passed the knot of adult conversation happening on the porch. Rowan was talking with the guy's parents, who looked even more upset now. Doc had shown up and was part of the sad circle, too. My mom and Piper were down on what constituted the cabin's front yard area.

They were talking. I didn't like it. I just had a feeling it wouldn't end up in anything good for me. A big part of me wanted to just go find our car and wait until my mom was done. Another—smaller—part of me knew it was best to just get it over with. I'd just drive myself crazy if I had to wait to find out what new and exciting twist my life was going to take now.

I went over to them.

"There you are." My mom said to me. "We were discussing next Tuesday."

Yeah, next Tuesday. It sounded all innocuous and normal when put that way. What she really meant was our pack induction and challenge fights. I should've just gone to the car. I already knew how horrible that was going to be. I didn't need to discuss it.

Probably reading my lack on interest on this topic on my face, she went on. "You and Piper are going to practice exchanging dominance. Tomorrow."

"Abby?" Rowan called out to my mom and she left us to go join the huddle on the porch.

I looked at Piper. Did he really want to do this? Had he just agreed because my mom had asked? Because he was trying to pretend everything was fine between us when it obviously wasn't? It had hurt him last time.

And there was that whole thing where I couldn't control my stupid wolf and blacked out. I really didn't want to do this.

I opened my mouth to tell him he didn't have to do this, but Piper cut me off. "We're doing it." His tone was direct and forceful, but there wasn't any alpha sting to it. "Last time sucked because we didn't know what we were doing, this time it'll go better." He added, tone softening. He actually looked at me then.

Looking into Piper's eyes, I wanted to say yes. He actually wanted to do something with me—it being about surviving a beat down was besides the point—I wanted to jump on the offer, but dominance sucking really sucked.

"It hurt you last time and knocked you on your ass. What if that's just the price of it? You have to fight after me. How are you going to do that if you're all worn out?"

"Well, that's why we're going to practice before then."

"What if—" Piper cut me off again.

"Why are you so eager to give up before it even begins?"

I was taken aback by his words. Giving up? I wasn't. I was just being realistic about what was going to happen. Wolves like Piper always had a chance when it came to stuff like this, but not Rory.

"We can try." He went on. "If it doesn't work, we'll think of something else. You're in this mess because of me and I'm not going to let anything happen to you." Piper reached out and grabbed my shoulder. It didn't last long, but coupled with his concern made me want to try.

"Okay, we'll do it." I said.

Maybe we had filed for divorce, but I don't think either one of us had actually signed the papers yet.